Overcoming Self-Doubt: Dr. Abbie Maroño on Imposter Syndrome & Leadership

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Ever wondered how to contend with the foe that is imposter syndrome?

Aspire to Inspire cohost Brian Tomlinson is joined by Dr. Abbie Maroño, a brilliant behavioral scientist ranked in the top 1% of her field.

Dr. Abbie examines our feelings of inadequacy and how to deal with thoughts that we are undeserving of our success. She addresses limiting beliefs that can interfere with achieving business goals.

In addition to exploring actionable steps for overcoming self-limiting beliefs, Abbie addresses other topics such as how to maintain a sense of humanity while integrating AI into the workforce.


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Abbie Maroño (Instagram): https://www.instagram.com/doctorabbieofficial/?hl=en

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About Staffbase:

Staffbase is the fastest-growing employee communications cloud, equipping many of the world’s leading companies with solutions to inspire every employee with motivating communication. With almost 3,000 customers, Staffbase helps organizations such as Adidas, Alaska Airlines, Audi, Blue Apron, DHL, and Whataburger to inspire their people to achieve great things together. Staffbase connects companies with their employees through a branded employee app, intranet, email, SMS, digital signage, and Microsoft 365 integrations, all of which can be managed through a single platform. In 2023, Staffbase was named a leader in the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Intranet Packaged Solutions. Staffbase has also received the 2024 Choice Award for Intranet and Employee Experience Platforms from ClearBox.

Headquartered in Chemnitz, Germany, Staffbase has offices worldwide, including New York City, London, Berlin, Sydney, and Vancouver. Please visit staffbase.com for more information.


Brian Tomlinson: Hi and welcome to a brand new episode of the Aspire to Inspire podcast. My name is Brian Tomlinson and I am the Head of Content at Staffbase. Today we’re speaking to Doctor Abbie Maroño. Doctor Abbie is a top 1 percent behavioral scientist, the director of Education at Social Engineering, LLC, as well as an author and TEDx speaker.

Doctor Abbie, welcome to the show.

Abbie Maroño: Thank you for having me.

Brian Tomlinson: Happy that you’re here with us today. I think we’re definitely looking forward to having this conversation. As a leader myself, and I think for all of the communications leaders out there, speaking about your expertise in behavioral science, I think what we do as communicators is actually deal with people every day, right? That’s the foundation of what we do. So, yeah, looking forward to getting your insights into just simply how better for us to communicate as people, and also communicating with ourselves. Right?

Abbie Maroño: Yes.

Brian Tomlinson: So maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself, just to get going.

Abbie Maroño: So, as you said, I’m a behavioral scientist. I actually work in cyber security full time, looking at how we can understand human vulnerability and protect against bad actors. But generally, I work in things like wellbeing, self-awareness, self-limiting beliefs. Anything that is to do with understanding people from anthropology perspective, from a neuroscience perspective, from general psychology, sociology. I kind of try and bring those all together to then understand how we can be better as individuals and be better as teams.

Brian Tomlinson: Okay. That’s awesome. I’m ready to sink my teeth in there. That’s, I think, so interesting overall. I think one thing that I would love to know is what made you decide to get into behavioral science? What was the thing that caught your attention [and made you decide] this is definitely what I want to do?

Abbie Maroño: So, I knew I wanted to do psychology since I was 17 years old. It helped me understand my own behavior. And from that I just kind of fell in love with it. And I knew I wanted to be a professor as soon as I started university. I worked with one of my lecturers. I had this idea about a research paper and I brought it to him, and he just said, have you told anyone this idea? And I said no. And he said, well, don’t, because it’s not been done before. So if you want to do it, we’ll work together. So we worked together and we ended up getting the paper published. And I was 19, so I was still in my first year.

And from the moment that I got my first paper published, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, because there were questions about human behavior that we didn’t know the answers to, and to be part of the journey of figuring out what the answer was was so exciting, because it’s a step forward in science, even if it’s just the tiniest, tiniest step forward. It was a step forward, and every single paper I’ve done since and when I was doing my PhD and I had all these questions, you realize it’s just such a privilege to be part of that scientific endeavor. And I love not knowing the answers. It’s so exciting when you’re diving into literature and you can’t figure out and you’re like, well, now I have to be part of understanding how to figure out what the answer is.

So I now moved from academia to the private sector because as much as I love academia, I did notice that science isn’t always translated to the general public and to people that really need it. There’s a lot of understanding in academia, but the science isn’t accessible. So I moved into cybersecurity more generally. But like I said, you know, I teach a big range of areas and different topics. And my motto since then was making science accessible. So I realized I want to keep doing the research, but I want to be able to translate the research to people that really need it. And we work with the federal government, we work with industry leaders, we work with everyday people, we work with lay people. So it’s really a privilege.

Brian Tomlinson: So that’s cool. I mean, that sounds to me like you’re communicator as well.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah, yeah.

Brian Tomlinson: Translating one thing to the next is really the hallmark of communication at the end of the day as well.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. It helped. My PhD was in nonverbal communication and information elicitation. So I have found that the topics I studied specifically have helped me actually craft my career, because a lot of it went through with influence and communication. So as you learn the tactics and do the research, you can start implementing them yourself and see it work in real time.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful thing when you are able to do that. Right?

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. It’s definitely a benefit of psychology.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah. I mean, maybe just to kind of kick off as well to go a little bit deeper, I think one of the big things that I see a lot right now, and especially in business culture, is around the topic of imposter syndrome. So, maybe you can explain to us what that is, right, and if, particularly for leaders, particularly for young leaders, even, how they could potentially overcome that as well.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. So imposter syndrome is really that feeling of, you know, it’s in the name feeling like an imposter, feeling like you don’t really know what you’re doing and you’re a fraud. And we have this overwhelming feeling that people are going to find out that we don’t know what we’re doing. Yeah, because we look at everybody else and we’re like, oh, they know exactly what they’re doing. I have no idea. I’m the fraud here. I need to try and keep this mask on. And it’s really stressful because you have to put up this facade almost like you know exactly what you’re doing when you are a little bit lost and we think that we are the only ones who experience that.

And what it stops us [from] doing is often asking for help, because if we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re a little bit lost, if we say, please could you help me, we’re like, they’re going to know that I’m a fraud. So I have to keep up this persona that I know exactly what I’m doing, that everything is perfect, that I’ve been doing this for years, and what we forget is everybody was a beginner. If you’ve started a new job, even if you’ve been working in that industry for a very, very long time, it’s still new. You’re still in a new place, you’re still in a new company, you’re still in a new dynamic. So you’re going to have a period where you feel like an imposter, or you’ve just moved up the corporate ladder. You might feel like an imposter as you move up because it’s new to you. So it’s a perfectly normal thing, and it’s something that we all experience. It’s highly universal. You know, it affects both men and women, both older people, younger people. None of us are immune to imposter syndrome. But what it does do is it creates a limitation to ourselves. Like I said, we don’t ask for help, but it also makes us feel really ashamed because we feel like we’re embarrassed, we should be ashamed because everybody else has this huge idea and they’re floating through life and the grass is always greener.

Brian Tomlinson: Maybe let’s double click on that though, because I know you are also doing that work around shame as well. And I totally agree with you. It’s like especially in our social media culture. Right? You see, there’s Instagram versus reality at the end of the day, right? How can someone deal with that shame, though?

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. So the problem with shame, unlike most of our emotions, is that we don’t like to talk about that. On Instagram, a lot of people do their before and afters, but even those are tweaked. They put this specific before, this specific after. So even when they’re showing you, “all these are the things I’ve overcome,” they’re still crafted. So we really see this idealized version and it just makes us feel like we’re not enough.

But what we have to remind ourselves is perception is reality. And it’s this universal experience of imposter syndrome. And it’s that shame is also a universal emotion. We have it for a reason. And when we remind ourselves that perception is reality, we can take those feelings that we have and say, okay, if I let them tell me that I’m not good enough, not ignore them, I’m going to feel them. I’m going to listen to them, but I’m not going to let them tell me that I’m not good enough. Because if I do, that perception is going to craft how I now interact with the world.

So if we listen to shame and we go, okay, instead of addressing this and understanding, why do I feel shame and just feeling that shame and going, you know, this is awful, I’m going to bury it deep down, I’m going to be in denial of it now. We’re going to go forward still feeling that we’re going to have all those feelings and we’re going to self limit. So we’re going to think, okay, well, I’m not competent enough, I don’t know enough. So then what we do is we don’t take the opportunities and then what happens is we don’t get that chance for growth. So we don’t develop the competence. So it becomes this, not just self-sabotage but, self-fulfilling prophecy where the thing that we fear is going to happen happens because we fear that it’s going to happen.

So the way that I think it starts to try and get over that is with the education that these are universal things. Shame is just a warning sign to you that something is wrong. So if you feel shame, it’s telling you, listen to me because I’m a warning sign. There’s a reason that you feel it. And usually the reason that you feel it is you have acted in a way that doesn’t align with how you want to be, or you feel a way that isn’t in line with how you want to be. And now you kind of need to deep dive into that.

And usually what I find with people that have this really shameful imposter syndrome is they are blocking all of their emotions. They won’t talk to anybody. And because perception is reality, they now live inside their head. They start to really overthink. They start to get overwhelmed and they’re not letting it out. And usually if you just speak to someone, a trusted friend, a family member, another colleague, and have one open conversation, you realize most people feel exactly the same. And when you go on Instagram and like you said, we’re seeing these idealized versions. I see it all the time, these speakers talk about how the route to empowerment and living the dream and living authentically is, you know: “Don’t care what people say about you, don’t care what people think about you, and ignore the judgment of others.” Well, that’s not how we’re wired as human beings. That is an impossible thing to reach because we care. We are wired that way. So when we see that it makes us feel like our emotions are, you know, somehow wrong. But what actually we should remind ourselves is when people teach us that and they say to live shame-free and just to remove those feelings, what they’re doing is denying their human experience of emotion.

So when you hear people do that, click off their page, unfollow them and remind yourself, we are all humans. It’s, you know, the human experience to feel those negative emotions, but utilize them as motivation to work harder. Maybe they’re telling you that you’re unprepared, so listen to them, don’t bury them, and then move forward. And I always just remind myself, perception is reality. Whenever I feel my perception is reality, I feel like an imposter, but I’m not an imposter.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah, just like that. I think that’s exactly right. This thought of: thoughts are things. And having these thoughts create your reality is exactly that. And, yeah, having people end up in this endless loop, this endless cycle, I think is something that we have to be careful of. But that brings me to something that you mentioned, though, it’s like this self-awareness, right? I think listening to you [talk about] that initial stage of overcoming anything like, imposter syndrome or, maybe as we’ll speak about in a little bit in my next question [about] limiting beliefs, this self-awareness somehow is this foundation or kind of starting getting started. Maybe you can just just speak briefly on that and how a leader is able to jump into that, become more self-aware, do self-reflection, etc.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah, self-awareness is really difficult. We think that it’s a really easy thing because we’re like, well, I live with myself every day, so I know how I feel, but most of the time what we’re actually doing is just letting our emotions kind of take over and we’re just going with them. We’re not really stopping to introspect. And when we self-reflect and we think, okay, well, why did I do that? And we ask ourselves that question and we think, oh, well, I did it because, you know, for this quick reason I’m pulling out. Usually the quick things that come to mind are self justifications, because we know in psychology, when we act, we like to feel like we are acting in a way that aligns with who we want to be.

So when we behave in a bad way or we behave in an inconsistent way, instead of really looking deep down why we did that, our brain will try and pull information really quickly to justify why we did it. So they’re easily accessible to the idea that we could go there. And often that’s where blame comes in. I did it because of what you did. I did it because of this reason. And that’s a very common thing. But it’s hard to say, okay, maybe I am lying to myself. So let’s dig a little bit deeper. And the main thing that I see, that’s the issue here when it comes to self-awareness, is what’s called locus of control. And locus of control is how we justify the consequences of our actions. Is it because of something that I did internally, which is an internal locus of control? So I failed that exam because I didn’t study hard enough. I’m responsible for the consequences, versus I failed the exam because the test paper was too hard. It was something outside of my control.

This I see a lot in leadership. Oh well, it didn’t work out because the team didn’t work hard enough. Not because I didn’t give enough direction. And especially now we see a lot of, oh, well, you know, I behave that way because, you know, Mercury was in retrograde. And I went, oh, okay, of course. And it’s like, well, you didn’t really behave that way because of the alignment of the planets. You behave that way because of something else, something internal. Are you denying your emotions? Did you have a bad day? Did you have, you know, we have personal problems going on, medical issues. Did you allow those to come into your professional life and affect how you interacted with people and then to justify that you go, oh, well, she was rude to me. So we have to remember the part that we play and to stop and say, Maybe I’m the problem, and maybe my perspective is the problem. [It’s] a really difficult thing to do. But we have to take accountability.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah, yeah, let’s take ownership. That’s one of our values at Staffbase is ownership, and really I think that self-reflection, like you said, is really that huge. Just like, What what can I do? It sounds kind of like a stoic principle as well, you know, like, focus on what you can control and not everything else that’s going on in the world.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. And I always say, you know, writing down is really, really useful. And studies have been done, and it doesn’t matter how you write, whether it’s, you know, notepad or on their laptop or in the notes page; just the act of writing is really, really helpful. And it’s because when we feel something, it’s intangible. You know, our emotions are intangible. They’re inside. And, how we feel about our day, our experiences are intangible. So when we write them, putting them into words helps us understand them.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah.

Abbie Maroño: And there are so many studies done, and it doesn’t matter if you do it every day versus every week versus every couple of weeks. The exact same benefit occurs when you write it down and explain to yourself and literally write yourself questions, Why did I do this? And just writing it down and really just exploring without judgment is so helpful. And what I always say is just dig a little bit deeper. As a scientist, my favorite question is always why? Because you go why, you give an answer, and you go dig a little bit deeper. There’s always another reason underneath. So it’s up to you how deep you’re willing to go. And just keep asking yourself those questions and writing it down as a leader I really think is so important. There’s so much research on that, and a lot of people are really hesitant because they think, oh, well, that’s something that, you know, just women do, or that’s something that is, you know, for hippies or people that do this mindfulness practice and it’s “they’re all people who do spirituality,” and we forget there’s a huge amount of neuroscience research to mindfulness and to journaling that it benefits us as communicators. And you can not want to do that because you don’t think that it keeps up this, you know, persona that you have, but the only person that’s going to be limited is you. If you don’t do that, you’re just going to limit your ability to succeed because you’re limiting your ability to be self-aware.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah, I know. I mean, personally, I can only say that like, this practice of journaling or at least trying to make the practice. So, not that it happens all the time.

Abbie Maroño: We don’t have to call it journaling so much as just expressing our thoughts in writing.

Brian Tomlinson: Exactly right. I love the Waking Up app from Sam Harris as well, but also trying to incorporate this mindfulness habit. There’s something, especially today, we have so much going on, right? Whether that be just in your business life, your personal life, but trying to bring out the best performance from yourself. And a lot of that comes from looking inside as well.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. And with everyone being so busy all the time, especially in the corporate world, it can be really difficult because we think, oh, well, I don’t have time to add this to my routine. You don’t have to do it every day. And I’m the same. I never know what day it is. I just know what my calendar tells me I have to do that day. So what I try and do is add it into my calendar. I will literally put in a slot of half an hour to go and sit on my balcony and just have a cup of tea, and just be quiet for half an hour and then come back in. And I don’t do that every day. I do that every couple of days.

Or, you know, sometimes it’s a busy week, but I try and get things like that in. And if you know that, you know, you are very calendar driven, the same way that I am, and I know that my team are very much the same. None of us ever know when it is anymore, we just know tasks. So block it into your calendar. Or if you are someone that really likes a strict routine, find a way to quickly embed it into your routine somewhere, you know, first thing when you wake up, just after you’ve had breakfast, at lunchtime, or just before you go to bed. There is always time. And we have this mindset of time is money and we never have time. We all have time. It’s just, are you willing to prioritize it?

Brian Tomlinson: What do you think stops us from taking these like five minutes? You know, like because you have these little habits that we know can help us, like meditating or journaling, etc. What do you think stops us from taking just like five minutes where we’re so busy that we can take these five minutes that could potentially help us change our lives?

Abbie Maroño: That is such a great question. And often we think we want to know the answers, but we don’t. We think if we feel shame, we go, okay, I need to deal with this or we feel imposter syndrome, okay, I need to deal with this. We don’t want to. Of course we don’t want to. It’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t make us weak to want to avoid our emotions. It’s actually the way that the brain is wired. When we feel really overwhelming negative emotions, the brain wants that to go away. It wants the pain to go away because it wants us to feel good. It wants us to be safe and survive. So we know that there’s a thing called emotional shut down after things like trauma or really negative experiences, which is where the brain will literally shut down regions and just new activity and regions are responsible for dealing with the pain of that memory.

And it also shuts down regions that are responsible for self-awareness and self-reflection, like the insula. And it does that because we are designed to protect ourselves. The brain really wants to just look after itself and keep you safe. So when we are exploring negative emotions, it’s so natural to want them to go away. And if I hold a mirror up to you and in that mirror, it’s all the worst things you’ve ever done and all the things that you’ve experienced, and we also forget that often our limitations and self-limiting beliefs can come from negative experiences, come from things that we’ve learned. Maybe we were bullied, maybe we had a difficult childhood, and they manifest in really different ways later on, and they can manifest in things like self-limiting beliefs and self-sabotage. So when we’re holding it up, like, why can’t I be a better leader, well, the answer isn’t always as simple as I just need to communicate better, because a lot of that we carry on, you know, we carry over from our childhoods or from, you know, previous relationships and holding that mirror up and looking into it without, you know, turning it around or looking away, it’s really difficult. And the answer isn’t always nice and it’s not. . . All this empowerment and self-awareness isn’t always, you know, rainbows and ponies. It’s really difficult and it’s confronting and it is difficult. Growth is so uncomfortable. It really is. So when we say, well, I’m self-reflecting, why aren’t I getting any better? But because you don’t want to do those five minutes and you don’t really want to ask yourself those questions because it hurts and it’s uncomfortable, but that’s where growth happens.

Brian Tomlinson: I mean, how, because you mentioned there about about limiting beliefs. I’m not necessarily going to ask about limiting beliefs because I think we’ve touched on that a bit, but more how does that affect women versus men in the leadership space? Because, you know, today we have, more and more, thankfully, more and more female leaders.

How does limiting beliefs affect women versus men? Because I remember reading an article recently, and I think the whole topic of limiting beliefs actually comes from two women who founded this movement and gave it the name limiting beliefs. And that’s also tied to imposter syndrome. So I would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Abbie Maroño: So definitely times have changed. And, you know, women have fought so hard for empowerment and in some spaces there’s now, you know, I used to consider myself a feminist and now I wouldn’t, because I do think that the title and the movement has got different connotations now. And in some spaces, a lot of people say, well, empowerment is man hating and superiority to men. And then in some spaces it’s just being equal. So there is definitely a big shift and it can be very turbulent.

But women have come such a long way and it’s been this tough but incredible journey. And now in law, we have equal opportunity. Now there are things like pay gaps in some industries and there are not pay gaps in other industries. And then there’s pay gaps because of, not because of a lack of opportunity, but because of choice and because of types of careers. So I would really say that that isn’t something that’s case dependent. When it comes to actually self-limiting beliefs and imposter syndrome, we tend to think that women get it a lot more severely. But when we look in the academic literature, it’s equal. Men and women experience it equally. But the way we express it is different, and the way we cope with it is different. So women are more likely to express it openly. And that’s one of the reasons that we tend to think, oh, well, it affects women more because women talk about it more. Men don’t openly talk about it more. And we know that there is, you know, a big perception of, well, men need to be masculine and women women need to be feminine. And biologically we have those differences in general. But, you know, it’s not. . . . We have grown a long way and now what we do see is men are a little bit more open. So there is a shift coming. There is a change in tide, but there still is this lingering perspective that women are allowed to experience this and men aren’t.

But we’re all human. Our brains function pretty much exactly the same way. We all experience these emotions. Women are more open about it, but the way we cope with it is different. So women are more likely to get stressed over it and feel anxiety, and that stress and anxiety can lead to self-limiting behaviors. So when women feel that, often what we see is they don’t go for the opportunities because they think, I won’t get it, so I won’t have this opportunity because it’s going to be given to a man or someone else, so I won’t go for it so they don’t get it. And then that reinforces, oh, well, I didn’t get it because I’m a woman. I didn’t get the opportunity. When you say, but did you fight for it? And they go no, because it wasn’t going to be given to me. Well, there you go. It won’t be given to you because you didn’t go for it.

Brian Tomlinson: Going back into that loop. Right?

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. The way that men tend to deal with it is they overcompensate. So what we do see in the literature is when men feel that they have a lack of control in this area, they feel that they are an imposter, they’re trying overcompensate. And then things like ego can get involved and they try and be overly controlling or they might try and be overly dominant to prove that they know what they’re doing and accidentally show dominance instead of competence and confidence, and then they might micromanage. So, when we understand that human, it’s universal, and we can try and avoid going into those negative coping mechanisms. And when we really are in touch with our emotions and we self-reflect instead of maladaptive coping, we can think, okay, I recognize that I feel this way, but I just feel it so let me just do it anyway. I did a recent TED talk, and I played on the concept of “fake it ‘til you make it.” But the way that I see it is: feel the emotion, but fake the behavior.

You know, your emotions are saying you’re not going to get the opportunity, you’re not good enough, you’re not this. Feel it. Understand it. Don’t pretend that it’s not there, but just don’t let it control you. Feel it, but I’m just going to do it anyway. I feel uncomfortable. My emotions are saying to me, you know, dig a hole, lay in that hole, and just, you know, lay there and just don’t go for it. I will feel that and I’ll understand it, but I’m going to get up and I’m going to do it anyway, because when we do that consistently, big ways, small ways, eventually we do look back and we’re like, wow, look how far I have come because I took those opportunities.

Brian Tomlinson: That makes the question come to my mind: How can we as leaders inspire the women in our workforce then to, let’s say, embrace that?

Abbie Maroño: So it’s really important that we make sure that everybody has equal opportunity. And when I speak to women, a lot of them say, you know, I’ve never had any issue. But I have had some issues in my career getting up here because I did start very young. And it can be very . . . it can feel very demeaning sometimes. Like I did go to a conference and I was one of the speakers and I think I was, I was a professor, so I was 23. I hadn’t yet got my doctorate, but I was a professor. And I remember an older professor had come to me and was like, wow, who did you need to sleep with to get here?

Brian Tomlinson: Wow.

Abbie Maroño: You know, it was like, wow, I didn’t realize that we were still carrying these perceptions. And that’s something that, you know, really played on my mind. And then when I got this position as director of education, we had a podcast out and there was a comment on the podcast and they were, you know, just about appearance. And they had said that, you know, my boss was only giving me this position to utilize having a female on it.

And I had done some Wired videos and some of the comments, almost every comment that was about me, was appearance. Despite that, I was there teaching science, it was all just appearance. And it can feel really demeaning and it can feel so deflating when you’re trying really, really hard and your work peers are respecting you, they’re giving you opportunity, but the public perception is very different. And, you know, people are making these comments, and as a leader, even if you’re giving everyone the equal opportunity, it’s important to realize that as a woman, the personal experience can be really difficult and it can feel really tough. And even if you’re like, well, there’s nothing wrong here in the workplace, you’re being paid the same, you’re being given the opportunities, yes, but provide them a space where they can talk about how they feel about their experience, because I guarantee most women in high corporate positions, when you ask them, have you ever had anybody talk to you when you’re, you know, talking about your work and all they want to talk about is something about your weight, about your body or your appearance, or they say something sexist or something very demeaning.

I guarantee most women have had that experience. And like I said, even when it doesn’t come from the workplace itself, it can still be really deflating. And when we are given this space to talk about that with other women, and we all, we can laugh about it. And I had one of our teammates, she was teaching, she’s an amazing teacher, And one of the classmates asked her for a threesome in the class. They didn’t ask the male teacher, just her. And she said she felt so small. She felt so tiny and embarrassed. And I know I feel embarrassed when these things happen because you think, well, I’ve brought this to my workplace. But it’s not our fault. It just these things happen and you can’t always control them as the leader, but what you can do is provide women a space to talk about it and let it out, let out the frustration, share that experience with other women. And also when you let the male members of that team know that they’re experiencing that, a lot of the time they go, wow, I had no idea. And just letting them be aware, it really does help this atmosphere because it stops women feeling that they’re carrying this burden.

And a lot of the time we can feel shame when it happens too. So again, when we have these open conversations, it really just facilitates a much healthier culture.

Brian Tomlinson: Now actually. . . . That’s perfect. I mean, it’s really, again, bringing communication to the forefront, right? And providing that safe space.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah, because you can be an amazing leader. But if you don’t know that something is going on behind the scenes, you can’t help. Yeah. So sometimes, like, there could be a barrier to why the team isn’t being productive or why there seems to be this really negative atmosphere on the team. And you think you’re doing everything right, but all you aren’t doing is just opening the doors to is there anything else weighing on you that we haven’t talked about? Because I might not have thought about it as a leader. So when you do open the doors to that open conversation, you’re given more information. And information is power. You can now try and work towards a solution for that.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah, I totally agree. I think as a leader, like having the empathy and being able to say, hey, you can come to me is so important. Right? And it doesn’t mean that someone would always come to you, but making sure that the door is really open is a very key part of the leadership.

Let’s, let’s jump to, a wholly different topic, actually. But I know it’s something that’s that’s hot on your mind, on everyone’s mind, and that’s AI. What’s your perspective on AI first of all, as a behavioral scientist and also like how do you see . . . do you think we can keep our humanity?

Abbie Maroño: Yeah. So AI concerns me as an educator and as a scientist because and as an academic too, because I think a study just came out and I was like 22 million papers have been submitted through Turnitin that were AI generated in universities. And it’s really worrying because this is how we learn. We learn through writing, we learn through seeking out information and the process of seeking information is really important to the consolidation of that information.

So when I want to find an answer to a question and I read 20 research papers to find that answer, it’s going to be more consolidated than if I take 30 seconds to go ask ChatGPT. And it’s that process of learning that really helps. And when we don’t use a skill like a muscle, it weakens. You know, if you are training biceps every day for years and then you stop, the muscle doesn’t keep growing. You can have muscle memory, but eventually it’s going to get smaller. We need to maintain. Well, the brain works the same way. When we have a particular skill set, we need to keep working that muscle. Just like if you learn a language and then you stop. When you go back, you think, oh, I don’t know how to say this, and you almost have to relearn. And when we’re writing and when we’re becoming scientists and we’re just using ChatGPT and we’re only using ChatGPT, we’re not working those muscles. So it does concern me, but it’s not going anywhere. So for me just to say, don’t use ChatGPT, I mean, for me, that’s great. I wouldn’t say I’m anti-AI. I think that it’s a great tool, but it does concern me for critical thinking, but that, you know, being blind to it isn’t going to help anybody because it isn’t going anywhere.

So what we can do is use it as a tool and one tool in our tool belt, not the entire kit, just a tool is not everything. So if you go on ChatGPT and I think of it as when we’re developing research studies or we have a question, if we just work alone, we get one perspective, we get our own thinking, so we don’t really challenge ourselves. So we always say, you know, ask other scientists, work with teams. That’s why the best papers, I think, have multiple collaborators, because you’ve got multiple different perspectives. What ChatGPT does allow you to do, and other AI platforms, is get other perspectives. So instead of having those conversations with five, ten scientists or, you know, laypeople, teams, or collaborators, you get that perspective from ChatGPT.

But once you’ve had that to also go and read the research. So if you’re saying, well, can you tell me about these findings, it will tell you, but go and check. Don’t just use their words now and you can say, okay, could you please provide me the reference for this and then go and check it yourself? Because I have tested it. I’ve asked it to explain my research to me. Yeah. And it gets it wrong. You know, it has told me the incorrect information. And then you say, well, that’s not correct. And then it goes, oh yeah, sorry, but it still explains it a little bit wrong because in psychology nothing is ever 100%. There’s always different perspectives to it. There’s always different interpretations of the same data also. And part of learning as a scientist is to understand how to make those interpretations in your way, how to engage critical thinking. So that’s a muscle we’re not working with ChatGPT. So using it as another tool to gain quick information and then also direct you to other reading.

Don’t just stop reading academic papers, don’t stop writing academic papers and allow it to write for you, use it as a tool. But we have to kind of fight against using it completely. And that’s a really difficult thing to do because it’s so efficient. Why would I write this paper when AI can write it for me? But you have to think long term. Do you want this skill of being able to write that way? And I think that there’s going to be much tighter controls on ChatGPT soon. So if you’re using it and you’re only using it and say, tighter controls, come in now and say we have technology that allows us to identify when it’s being used. Well, now, what do you do? Because now you’re like, I don’t know how to use this skill anymore. Oops. Now I have to relearn. So just try and get out of that mindset of it’s a complete crutch. it isn’t. Don’t disregard it. But, you know, think for yourself also and try and integrate it instead of relying on it.

Brian Tomlinson: Oh yeah. No, I totally agree with you in that. I mean, even coming from the let’s say creator side. Right? It’s very much a tool, right? So if you are a writer, like, it can generate ideas, you can even do a first draft or so. But I think this is where your craft really comes into play.

And yeah, I think there’s a lot to come. And I think it’s very much for us to make sure that it is leveraged as a tool and not like, as you said, as like this main crutch, you know?

Abbie Maroño: And we like uniqueness. So what happens if everybody is using it, well everybody is going to start to sound the same. And I love reading books, like I love especially reading Carl Sagan. He just has this way of writing where even if you don’t know it’s his book, you start reading and you’re like, this is Carl Sagan. And I have the same with Bill Nye. You know, as soon as I read anything written by them, I’m like, I know who this is. Because they just have this really distinct, amazing way of writing. Yeah, their voice comes through.

So use AI, but don’t allow it to mute your voice. And again, as an author, this really concerns me because you think, well, what’s the publishing industry going to look like? But I do think that as it overwhelms different industries, we’re going to start to crave this uniqueness because everything’s going to start to feel the same. We really want something that feels human. So I do think there is going to be a little bit of a pushback, and people that are allowing their voice to come through will eventually start to kind of rise to the top and will eventually start to get picked out because we’re going to feel a little bit more connected to them.

Brian Tomlinson: Yeah. Totally agree. Well said.

Abbie Maroño: Thank you.

Brian Tomlinson: Cool. Now, I think, last question for you today. I would love to know just from your perspective, based on your expertise, what advice would you offer to leaders and communicators who want to improve their communication, who want to improve their influence on their organization, while staying authentic? What are some actionable takeaways that you can give?

Abbie Maroño: So we’ve already talked about self-awareness, so I’ll move forward from that and I’ll move into more practical skills. And I did say at the beginning my background is non-verbal communication. So when it comes to influence and self-improvement, I’m always going to say nonverbal communication. Because perception again, perception is reality, but it isn’t just within us, it’s also how we observe other people. So if someone is trustworthy and competent and confident, but they don’t look it, well we’re going to assume they’re not. So if you have the right nonverbal communication where you understand how to appear confident, how to look trustworthy, how to look confident, you’re going to appear that way and you’re going to be able to open the door.

So you’ve got to have both. You’ve got to actually have the skill set. And what I see are a lot of people that are great with their nonverbals, but it’s a short-term tactic. So they look really great. And then the more you actually interact with them, you realize it’s just a facade and it doesn’t do them any favors. So you’ve got to be able to have the actual skill set, but you’ve got to appear confident.

And one thing we do is when we are anxious and when we’re stressed, there’s two behaviors that I would say are really key because, I know we don’t have a huge amount of time, when we get anxious and get nervous, we self touch. We wrap our hands together, we touch our face a lot, and we do it because when we’re anxious our nervous system is overactive. When we self touch, especially the hands, the lips, the face, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms us down. So we do it because we’re trying to calm ourselves down, but when we see someone do it, we think nervousness, we think stress, we think anxiety. Even if we don’t consciously, we pick it up and we recognize that. And anxiousness really is the opposite of confidence. So we see it, we think, okay, well they’re not confident, therefore they probably don’t know what they’re doing, even if they do. Again, perception is reality. So try and be mindful of things like self touch. And the other thing is when we’re feeling nervous and we’re feeling small, we make ourselves small. We have this really unconscious drive and we try and almost disappear. Like if you don’t want to be in a situation, we try and make ourselves small enough and if we have a bag or we have objects, we even bring those close to us. If we’re feeling uncomfortable. When we’re confident, you know, we get bigger, we take up space.

And I don’t mean big like dominance. Dominance is taking up space, getting in other people’s space. Confidence is just the fluidity moving in your own space. So when you feel nervous and you walk into that meeting, we walk into that negotiation, think to yourself, what is my body doing? Because often you’re telling yourself, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, but your nonverbals are saying I want to disappear. So not everybody in that room can see that you feel nervous. So telling yourself, okay, again, show the behavior and feel the emotion. Take the behavior. Tell yourself, okay, I feel it, but I’m going to stand up, too. I’m going to put my shoulders back. I’m going to go in there and recognize this is a human, normal emotion, but I’m going to carry myself as if I feel confident, as if I feel really good.

And often when we do that, and we know from studies that when we present ourselves non-verbally as confident, it makes us feel more confident. So again, self-fulfilling prophecy. We start to change that cycle out of that feeling small, looking small, behaving small, to maybe feeling small but not behaving small and not looking small. And then maybe we change the dial, and maybe now we start to feel big. And then we look big, and then we act big.

Brian Tomlinson: Cool. Oh what a way to end. And I could, I could talk, the rest of the day.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah, I think we could go on for ages.

Brian Tomlinson: Absolutely. So, thank you so much for joining us. Tell everyone where they can find you.

Abbie Maroño: So my website is abbiemarono.com, and then you can find me on my Instagram, doctorabbieofficial, and you can find me on LinkedIn at Dr. Abbie Maroño.

Brian Tomlinson: Super perfect. And you have a book coming out this summer as well. I don’t want to forget that because I’m looking forward to it.

Abbie Maroño: Yeah, I have my first book coming out in July and it’s called Work in Progress: The Road to Empowerment, The Journey Through Shame.

Brian Tomlinson: Awesome. Super. Well, Doctor Abby, thank you so much for joining us today. And to our viewers, watchers, thanks very much for joining another episode of the Aspire to Inspire podcast. We’ll see you next time.

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